We know that God is as loving as he is just. He is not more loving than he is just, nor more just than he is loving. All of his attributes are perfectly balanced.
Evangelical Christians have therefore always accepted the truth that God's holiness and justice sometimes requires a response of wrath. Hopefully, this is not something we cherish, but rather we accept as a necessary part of his justice.
However, I find myself wondering if we have misunderstood part of the biblical doctrine of God's wrath, and it can be summarized with this question. What is on God's face when he is meting out punishment — a scowl or a smile, or tears?
When we see a parent discipline a child in anger, we instinctively know something is wrong. When we see a parent spank a child and seem to enjoy it, we know something is wrong. I heard a story many years back of a parent who, uncharacteristically, spanked their son in anger, and the three-year-old pointed his finger at the parent and said, "No." Even at that age he understood that something was different, and wrong.
When I had to discipline one of my children, it was always in sadness. I was not smiling. I was not scowling. I was not enjoying it. It was in sadness, sometimes in tears, that Robin and I had to teach our children right and wrong and the consequences of their bad choices.
I am struck by the fact that the New Testament never says Jesus was angry. We assume he was angry when he was cleansing the temple, but it doesn't say he was. We assumed he was angry when he was condemning the religious leaders in Matt 23, but it doesn't say he was. The closest I can see to Jesus being angry is in the textual variant of Mark 1:41 followed by the NIV, but even then Jesus was surely "indignant" at the destruction of his beautiful world by sin, not the request by the man with leprosy.
I wonder if we have allowed Church history and the bitterness of some forms of fundamentalism to affect how we think of God and his wrath. I am pretty sure there is deep sadness on his face in the midst of his wrath, but in some cases a gleam in his eye as he already knows the positive outcome of his discipline.
Thanks for all the response. I have found them helpful. I have no desire to explain away God's wrath. It is perfect and just and loving (in a biblical sense). Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden out of love, since it would have been unloving to allow them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and live forever. And somehow I had missed the Mark 3:5. "And after looking around at them in anger, grieved at the hardness of their heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched out his hand and it was restored." Someone once told me that anger is a positive emotion as it is a warning sign that you are in danger and also gives you the energy to get out of danger. So true. But it is still interesting that the gospels are relatively silent about this emotion as far as Jesus is concerned. And by the way, I think there are a multiplicity of ways that Jesus could have said, "You brood of vipers," and yet not with a tone we often connect with the idea of anger. But thanks again.